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Science, God and the Bible

In my previous post I was responding to objections of Joel Hilchey to my article entitles “The Argument from Evolution.” I gleaned five principle objections but abstained from writing about science and God for space issues. Here is the remainder of what I had to say in response to that area. To Joel, if it seems like you’ve been caught in the line of fire, that’s only because you have provided a lot of intellectual tinder for my guns.

 

Science, God and the Bible

You charged that the Bible offers nothing scientifically relevant. I disagree on the following grounds.

1) The Bible provides epistemic grounds to ensure the success of science.

2) The Bible provides motivation for the pursuit of scientific truth. 

3) The Bible anticipates scientific discoveries. 

 

1) The Bible provides epistemic grounds to ensure the success of science.

The idea of God does not stymy science at all, but invigorates it. It was the Christian worldview that first opened the door to the modern scientific era. The understanding that a rational God created a rational universe along with rational man, who could understand it made science flourish for almost 400 years. 

Almost every major field of science was founded by a Christian, working specifically from a Christian worldview. Consider Isaac Newton, the father of modern physics; William Turner, the father of English botany; Johannes Kepler, the planetary laws of motion; Galileo Galilei, the father of modern astronomy; Rene Descartes, philosopher and mathematician; Blaise Pascal, physicist and mathematician who defended the scientific method; Robert Boyle, the first modern chemist; Louis Pasteur, inventor of the pasteurization method; Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics; Lord Kelvin, important in Thermodynamics; Max Planck, the founder of Quantum mechanics, and the list goes on. 

Before the scientific renaissance no religion or worldview provided epistemic grounds necessary for the success of science. To put it crudely, atheism gives us an irrational universe and a monkey’s brain to comprehend it. Agnosticism gives us nothing concrete to pin down even basic assumptions like the principle of uniformity or that we can know truth at all. Polytheism provides an irrational universe subject to the irrational gods who inhabit it. Theravada Buddhism denies the existence of the enduring real world to be known, and the enduring self to know it. 

The necessary preconditions of science are consistent with the Christian worldview. These are the rationality of the world; the existence of value; the reliability of the mind, and that the senses are generally truth-worthy.

On the Christian view God created the universe and placed man in it to subdue it and to rule over it – science was born in Eden. The purpose of man is to have dominion over all the created works of God (See Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8:6). Then God decreed “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, to search out a matter is the glory of kings (us).” Proverbs 25:2. He also gave us an inquisitive and creative mind to search out answers for all manner of problems. 

With society becoming more and more post-christian, if we are not about to see a collapse of the modern scientific era, it will only be because scientists refuse to discard theistic presuppositions. C.S. Lewis writes:

Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator. In most modern scientists this belief has died: it will be interesting to see how long their confidence in uniformity survives it. Two significant developments have already appeared—the hypothesis of a lawless sub-nature, and the surrender of the claim that science is true. We may be living nearer than we suppose to the end of the Scientific Age.1

 

2) The Bible provides motivation for the pursuit of scientific truth.

Dr. William Lane Craig writes; 

For as Christians we believe that all truth is God’s truth, that God has revealed to us the truth, both in His Word and in Him who said, “I am the Truth.” The Christian, therefore, can never look on the truth with apathy or disdain. Rather, he cherishes and treasures the truth as a reflection of God Himself.2

As Christians we believe that the author of science and the author of the Bible are the same. Therefore, good science shall find the fingerprints of God. That does not mean the theist has any advantage over an non-theist scientist, apart from what is pointed out in 1). Craig goes on to say; 

Nor does his commitment to truth make the Christian intolerant. . . on the contrary, the very concept of tolerance entails that one does not agree with that which one tolerates. The Christian is committed to both truth and tolerance, for he believes in Him who said not only, “I am the Truth,” but also, “Love your enemies.3

See the humility of Sir. Isaac Newton, a deeply committed Christian, after completing his great work Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica; “I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

He understood that seeking scientific truth was not the sole domain of the Christian, but that scientific truth showed the beauty and wonder of not only God’s creation, but by extension, God Himself. Science, for the Christian, carries with it an extra dimension. The German astronomer Johannes Kepler said that through his study of the Universe, he was “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”

 

3) The Bible anticipates scientific discoveries

 – Against the prevailing scientific views of the time Isaiah 40:32 states “God sits above the circle (sphere) above the earth.” 

 – Written at least 2000 BC, Job 26:7 says “He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing.” 

 – The first law of thermodynamics, energy conservation, was not established until 1850 but was predicted in Genesis 2:2 when it said “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.”

 – The second law of thermodynamics, energy deterioration, was predicted over and over. In Matthew 24:35 it says “Heaven and earth will pass away…”

 – Creation ex nihilo is predicted in Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” the word created (bara’) in Hebrew means ‘to form from nothing.’ 

 – That twentieth century science has confirmed that time and space themselves began to exist in Big bang cosmology, is also a radical conformation of Genesis 1:1.

 – Isaiah 55:10 speaks of the water cycle, not confirmed untill it was at last provided by Bernard Palissy (c. 1510-1590) in his 1580 book Admirable Discourses, which cut through all previous misunderstandings. Ecclesiastes 1:7 “All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.”

 – If your in Virginia look up the statue of Matthew Fontaine Maury. Beneath you will find an inscription that reads; “Matthew Fontaine Maury, Pathfinder of the Seas, the Genius Who First Snatched from the Ocean and Atmosphere the Secret of Their Laws. His Inspiration, Holy Writ, Psalm 8:8, Psalm 107:23,24, and Ecclesiastes 1:6.”

 

1. C.S. Lewis, Miracles: a preliminary study (London, Collins, 1947); p. 110.

2. William Lane Craig, ‘In Intellectual Neural’ (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6597; retrieved 24 October 2008) 

3. Ibid

The Merits of Intelligent Design

Hello Joel,

I can tell you’ve put some thought into these important matters. There are few holes in your thinking however that are apparent to me and I shall endeavour to plug them here for you.

(1) In defence of Premise 1-1: If evolution is true, it requires a divine miracle.

Preliminary remarks

As I said in the article, ID scientists try not to invoke the cause of the design they see in biological systems while wearing their lab coat. Continually they make it clear that the presence of design indicates a designer, but they cannot speak as to who or what this intelligence is. As philosophers though, we can ask that second-order question.

To take your agnostic line and say we simply don’t know, is at least an admission that on our current scientific knowledge the most rational explanation given thus far is a divine miracle has taken place. 

Defence 

It is (i) the lack of naturalistic mechanisms for the specified complexity of macromolecules that is suspicious, but it is (ii) the probability calculations given by the second law of thermodynamics that turn those suspicions toward a transcendent cause. This cause is not some random, ad hoc explanation, like the flying spaghetti monster. We can deduce its properties and attributes from the design, like we can deduce the properties and attributes of a painter from a painting. This cause is not there to plug a hole in our knowledge and stymie the work of science, it is there to provide an explanation for data that cries out for an explanation. (iii) This design argument shows a cause that strongly implies a superior intellect, tremendous expertise and volition. These are all attributes of a personal being. While this in itself does not say specifically that the designer was God, it is nonetheless consistent with the concept of God and (iv) more likely than any contradictory.

The argument from biological specified complexity I think is quite strong on its own. Nevertheless it has severely limited the scope of God’s attributes. That is why it is always good to keep in mind that the argument does not appear out of the blue, on its own, but against the backdrop of other design arguments for Gods existence, such as the extremely powerful argument for the fine-tuning of the universe itself. That argument gives us a being who is timeless, immaterial, whose power approaches omnipotence at the minimum, whose knowledge approaches omniscience, and who is personal. 

 

(2) An Explanation

In order for an explanation to be viable, you don’t need an explanation for the explanation. For example, suppose you were to find an arrow head made of copper embedded in the rock on a mountainside, and close by you discover old broken shards of pottery, primitive tools and weapons, the remains of clay walls and marked graves. You conclude that some village once dwelled there in this high altitude. But suppose your mountaineering partner said “Hey, you don’t know how this supposed village got here, so your conclusion can’t be correct.”

You would rightly hit him over the head. The objects that need explaining are right there before of the two of you, and here he is arguing against the obvious. It is clear that you don’t need an explanation for the explanation in order for the explanation to be the best. If that were the case, then science would truly be over, for you’d have an infinite regress of things that need explaining and nothing would be explained. 

Likewise, if positing God as the designer, we don’t need an explanation of God’s origin, nature and how or why he operates, for this being to be the best explanation. 

It seems you have a wrong idea of God anyway. The God of the Bible never “came about.” He is by nature eternal, that is, He transcends time and has no beginning. Like you quoted in John 1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” He is the “first un-caused cause,” the creator of all that exists and thereby can supersede all natural laws of the universe. That is why we call him supernatural.

 

(3) Science and God

I have chosen to write about this in another post for space issues. 

 

(4) Intelligent predictions 

The charge that Intelligent design offers no predictions and therefore cannot be called a scientific theory is either wilful ignorance or blatant dishonesty. 

Dr. William Dembski answers this charge convincingly. I will not try to summarise all he said here – it would be far better to read it yourself here – though I will offer one quote. 

“To require prediction fundamentally misconstrues design. To require prediction of design is to put design in the same boat as natural laws, . . . This is to commit a category mistake. To be sure, designers, like natural laws, can behave predictably. . . Yet unlike natural laws, which are universal and uniform, designers are also innovators. Innovation, the emergence to true novelty, eschews predictability. . . Intelligent design offers a radically different problematic for science than a mechanistic science wedded solely to undirected natural causes. Yes, intelligent design concedes predictability. But this represents no concession to Darwinism, for which the minimal predictive power that it [Darwinism] has can readily be assimilated to a design-theoretic framework.”1

Although predictions are not required, that does not mean intelligent design makes no predictions. Here are some: (A) High information content machine-like irreducibly complex structures will be found; (B) Forms will be found in the fossil record that appear suddenly and without any precursors; (C) Genes and functional parts will be re-used in different unrelated organisms; (D) The genetic code will NOT contain much discarded genetic baggage code or functionless “junk DNA”. 

I have already shown (A) and (B) to be the case. As for (C) there is a large distribution of molecular and morphological characteristics throughout unrelated branches on the tree of life. It is a hallmark of a designer to reuse good design features. As for (D) it is now widely acknowledged that so-called “junk-DNA” is no longer considered purposeless. Against the predictions of neo-Darwinianism it has been found that non-gene sections of DNA have functionality. They regulate genes, package chromosomes to assist in cell division, and small mutations there can be the cause of some forms of cancer, Type 2 diabetes and other diseases. To read more on “junk-DNA” go here.

 

(5) Religious Books

Objections raised:

In points (1) through (4) I think I have already spoken to the main point you made clear in the last paragraph. What you do in this paragraph is impugn reputation of the Bible by (a)including it in the same category of other religious books; (b) saying the idea should be absurd to many people; the stories within are (c) shallow and (d) ridiculous and have (e) questionable character lessons; are (f) dated; (g) irrelevant to modern life; (h) offer nothing relevant scientifically or (i) morally. This is a heavy assault, indeed! 

But can you back-up any of your accusations? The only examples you give are (g1) exorcisms instead of medication, and (g2) poor sanitation of ancient peoples to note (g) the irrelevance of the Bible today in modern life with respect to healthcare.

Preliminary remarks:

This is a very interesting topic that I will try to address comprehensively some other time. Let me just say here that firstly I am certainly not going to defend all religious books. I’ll defend the Bible against all your accusations, and more if you can think of any if you can give examples. Second, that religious books like the religions themselves should be judged on a case by case basis, and not all lumped together prejudiciously like you have done here.

Broad critisims:

I will address these objections broadly by saying immediately the accusations strike me as shallow in themselves. Accusation (b) is followed immediately with an admission that many others accept the book to be literal and inspired Word of God. Accusation (e) seemingly presumes there are character lessons explicitly given in historical writings. Accusation (i) is downright laughable. Would you say the ten commandments are not relevant for today? (For a refutation of your preferred humanist ethic see here) What about the beatitudes, widely acknowledged to be the supremely highest ethic?

After the berating you then go on to say that Eastern religions are generally more moral than Western religions, forgetting of course that (1) Christianity is an eastern religion, with its origins deeply rooted in eastern soil and most it adherents now living in the east or the undeveloped third world; (2) Judaism and Islam are both eastern religions and also require fidelity and obedience; (3) William Wilberforce and (4) Mother Theresa. 

It was from the profound conversion of William Wilberforce to Christianity that made him realise that “all men are created equal,” and that therefore no man had the right to enslave another. The application of this Christian truth led to his tireless campaign for the abolition of slavery in England and spawned the movement throughout the west. A movement unknown to eastern religions. 

Mother Theresa went to India where Hinduism prevails amongst the laity and where they preach a cow is more precious than a human life. When she started caring for the sick and weak in Calcutta, many there were against her work because they saw it as interfering with peoples Karma by not allowing them to work off their suffering and improve their lot in the next life. People starve in the streets while offerings of food are sacrificed to one of the many gods. 

 

I will continue my criticisms of your criticisms in my next article entitled “Science, God and the Bible.”

 

1. William Dembski, ‘Is design testable?’ (http://www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_isidtestable.htm; retrieved October 24, 2008)